Taner Edis

Islamic Creationism In Turkey

The December 1992 issue of “Acts and Facts” (of the ICR) describes a “Creation Conference” in the October of that year in Turkey, featuring Duane Gish and John Morris, explaining how

Sometime in the mid 1980s, the Turkish Minister of Education, Mr. Vehbi Dinçerler [. . .] placed a call to ICR. [. . .] he wanted to eliminate the secular-based, evolution-only teaching dominant in their schools and replace it with a curriculum teaching the two models[.] As a result, several ICR books which dealt with the scientific (not Biblical) evidence for creation were translated into Turkish and distributed to all Turkey’s public school teachers.

Islamic countries, Turkey in particular, are fertile territory for creationism. The religious-cultural need for a “scientific creationism” is not confined to conservative Protestantism.

A widely available, low priced booklet (about 90 cents, 118 pages) by a leading Turkish creationist illustrates the nature of strict creationism in Turkey. Evolution, a Bankrupt Theory by Adem Tatli (Tatli, 1990), is also significant in that much of the included material was originally produced for the Turkish government. The level of reliance on the “creation science” produced by conservative Christians is striking.

From the Preface by Ubeydullah Küçük, the publisher:

[Western] civilization has turned its back on God and universal truths [. . .]. Among the demonic hypotheses this fundamentally flawed civilization—which has removed the concept and belief of the Creator God and replaced it with the idols of Man and this mortal life—has cursed humanity with, is Darwinism and the theory of evolution. Darwinism and Marxism are two false religions coming into being in the 19th century. [. . .] Finally we are at the end of the game, Marx is finished, and so is Marxism. . .

Now, it is the turn of its biological sibling Darwinism, the hypothesis of evolution. This greatest scientific fraud of recent ages will also collapse. Recent discoveries and progress in the field of molecular biology in particular, have exposed Darwinism and the atheist theory of evolution as a lie. But, just as old soldiers among Marxists are insistent on adhering to their false religion, Darwinists and evolutionists will also adhere to this pseudo-theory that agrees with their atheistic world view[.] However, it must be known with certainty that the defenders of Darwinism, transformism and atheistic evolutionary theory are fighting for a cause that is already lost.

Darwinism and evolutionary theory have given answers to origin questions that are unscientific, pessimistic, absurd, not in keeping with human dignity, and entirely in contradiction with universal absolute truths, and have thus become the opposite of wisdom.

From the Introduction by Adem Tatlı:

At about the middle of the 18th century, the idea that all existent in the universe was the work of a Creator, and that present forms of life had continued without change, was widely accepted in the world of science. [Later], the idea that creatures came into being by chance, and that higher forms of life had appeared through changes in lower forms found wide support, led by Darwin. This idea, known later as “Darwinism” or “the theory of Evolution,” began losing its value in the 1970′s, or at the least, it was considered in conjunction with the idea of creation.

The introduction then proceeds to describe how in 1985, the then Minister of National Education, Vehbi Dinçerler, asked Tatlı to prepare an extensive report on the theory of evolution. Tatlı recalls this comment of his to the Minister: “Darwinism, along with with Marxism and Freudism, constitutes the basis of materialist philosophy. Your opposition to evolution theory may, I fear, lose you your position.” The Ministers’ answer is said to be: “I feel the spiritual responsibility of 15 million children of the nation on my shoulders. The faith of our youth is shaken by the one sided presentation of such a theory. For the truth of this matter to be understood and be set in its proper course, let not only one, but a thousand Vehbi positions be sacrificed.”

Before discussing the “Evolution Report” of the Turkish Education Ministry, some political background is necessary. Turkey is still in most aspects a secular state, though about 98% of the population is said to be at least nominally Muslim. It may be that “scientific creationism” is a reaction to a fairly secular cultural environment. In the more traditionally religious and culturally rural parts of the country, evolution is simply not a concern.

The secular character of the state has been diluted, however, as in the right-wing military dictatorship period of 1980-83 and its aftermath, there was more state entanglement with Islam. Religious instruction, in an orthodox Sunni (the main branch of Islam) sense, was constitutionally mandated for middle and high-school education. A 1983 report of the State Planning Organization, on the subject of a national cultural policy, endorsed the idea of a “Turkish-Islamic synthesis.” Along with pseudohistory about the pre-Islamic culture of central Asian Turks, the report includes attacks against Darwin as an apostle of materialism (DPT, 1983:539):

Prominent among naturalist ideas that reduce humans to nature, count them as part of it, and deny human spiritual superiority that does not exist in nature, and cannot be derived from it, is Darwin [sic.]. This biological hypothesis has declared humans to be of monkey origin, and asserted that the mechanistic workings of nature are completed with the last stage of evolution progressing from monkey to human.

The idea of national unity and internal peace being ensured by a relatively tame Islam was first put into action by the dictatorship, but the party that won the less-than-free elections of 1983 continued similar policies. One of its main factions was the religious conservatives, analogous to the Christian Right in the US, and they were given the Education Ministry. This party, which was regularly praised in the US press for its “pro-Western” policies, remained in power until 1991. The success of a more explicitly Islamicist party in the 1994 local elections means that the influence of religious conservatism in politics will continue.

In this context, here is the statement of the Minister, and a summary of the following “Report on the Theory of Evolution”:

Dear Educator,

As is known, the concept evolution (transformation—development) is a general way ofthought. It is applied to all areas. The “Origin of Species” hypothesis that Lamarck (1744-1829) and Darwin (1809-1882) have propounded is an advanced application of this general idea to living beings. However, this hypothesis has caused extensive controversy in the world and in Turkey in the past two hundred years. It is the case that:

a. It has not been possible for the theory to acquire law status until this day. (For example, we refer to the law of gravity, not to the theory of gravity.)

b. Opposing research and arguments intended to refute the theory have progressed beyond efforts to prove the theory.

c. Arguments and research to develop alternate theories continues.

The setting of such arguments in Turkey has in effect been in secondary and even primary education, related and supervisory institutions connected to these, and parents with children in secondary education. Experience has shown that discussion of the theory at this level has been divisive, misleading, undermining of trust in science or even having effects of implying an idea of conflict between science and religious opinions. In these aspects, these discussions have at the least not been of use to anyone.

And furthermore, that it would not be objective and scientific to exclude contrary opinions to “a theory that has not been able to become a law for 120 years” from textbooks, has been an issue that even our common citizens have given close attention to.

The following report advocates the inclusion in the curriculum of the shortcomings of this theory and opposing opinions. Please study the report, and relate all opinions in favor or against to the Training and Education Council [the body that decides textbooks and curriculum].

M. VEHBi DiNÇERLER
Minister of National Education, Youth and Sports

THE SUMMARY OF THE REPORT:

According to Darwinism or the theory of evolution in its general meaning, a living creature has been formed by chance from unliving material, the various life forms of today have descended from that, and finally humans have come from monkeys.

Is there credible evidence for these claims? There is nothing but some interpretations and guesswork (p. 1-5).

Taking this into account, evolutionists proposed Neo-Darwinism. But it has been seen that this was not very different than its predecessor and has not been able to solve the problems (p. 5-8).

The evidence that evolutionists propose for evolution; mutation, embryologic evidence and vestigial organs, has been discovered to be without a serious basis and unable to produce a new kind (p. 8-16).

With both higher and lower organisms, fossil material demonstrating descent relations that evolutionists claim is nonexistent, as expressed by evolutionists themselves (p. 16-20).

It has been exposed by publications in this field that materials claimed to be related to human ancestors have been structured on fraud and speculation, and that no trustworthy fossil is in existence (p. 20-31).

The one-sided and insistent defense, in spite of all these shortcomings, of the theory of evolution, is understood by efforts to use the theory for materialist philosophy, as explained by scientists who are authorities in this field themselves (p. 31-35).

To present this theory, whose incomplete and inconsistent aspects have been demonstrated by a large majority of scientists who are authorities about evolution, as a law, is at least not in keeping with the ideas of objective science.

It is our conviction that, in textbooks, it is necessary to provide all of the evidence in favor of and against the theory of evolution, and to leave the decision to the reader, in order for our youth to gain the habit of objective and scientific thinking.

The body of the report contains depressingly familiar creationist arguments. Emphasis of mere chance, statistical impossibility claims, out of context quotations, assertions of the lack of transitional fossils, bogus taxonomy, conspiracy theories supported by Piltdown and Nebraska Man, condemnations of dogmatic materialism—an impressive display of the worst of creationism is packed into the report. The person presented throughout as an authority on evolution is, of course, Duane T. Gish of the ICR.

The concluding section attacks Turkish biology textbooks of 1979 (just before the military coup) for daring to support human evolution, declaring that life had “with a large probability” originated without outside intervention, explaining that new species more often arise from less specialized forms rather than highly adapted species, describing skeletal changes in hominid evolution, and similar intellectual crimes. These are said to be claims based on preconceived notions, without evidence, as seen by the confessions of researchers themselves.

The final recommendation, curiously enough, is a form of equal time. This is likely accounted for by the observation that the authors’ dependence on Christian creationist sources is so extensive as to unquestioningly adopt their strategy also. The conditions in just post-military rule Turkey were such that this compromise was unnecessary; biology textbooks could be watered down so as not to contradict the creationism appearing in the religion courses. The 1979 text does not reflect the present situation. Though an extreme example, in the late 80′s Turkey had a biochemistry textbook used in a state medical school that took time out from reactions to become reactionary: urging students to live a properly Islamic life, describing the “respect, worship, faith and prayer centers of the human brain,” etc. (Yeğin, n.d.:118)

The list of 90 footnotes is illuminating. Twenty two are to fairly well known “scientific creationist” sources, such as “Gish, D.T.; Evolution: The Fossils Say No!; translated by Adem Tatlı, 1984″, “Field, A.N.; The Evolution Hoax Exposed, 1971; translated by H. Avanoğlu, 1976″, “Macbeth, N.; Darwin Retried [in English], 1971″ and such.

The few (about 5) Turkish references are to old biology-related textbooks where the authors appear to have expressed creationist-like convictions. Most of the rest are to semipopular or technical scientific literature, in many cases clearly identifiable as being out of context, others being out of date by decades—many from the 1920′s to the 1950′s. In fact, it is fairly obvious that these references themselves are obtained through the Western creationist literature.

Following the Ministerial Report, the creationist book includes a Gish article, “Creation, Evolution, and Public Education,” which was officially translated by the same ministry.

The third and final part of the book is a collection of seven articles by Dr. Tatlı (there is no information within as to Dr. of what); presumably previously published in the popular religious press, to which Tatlı contributes regularly. Some highlights:

1. “Biology Textbooks Must Be Rewritten. . . “: Controversy about details of human evolution is used to give the impression that new hominid fossils have disproved evolution. The confessions of evolutionists are paraded; manufactured, as usual, through context-free quotations.

2. “The Evolution Scandal”: An argument from fraud, claiming evolution is a pseudoscience.

Of course, scientific evidence was needed for this claim [that there is no Creator and all is a product of nature and chance]. The duty of finding the necessary evidence was given to the theory of evolution. All similarities between living beings, all organs with unknown functions, all creatures with uncertain structure were harnessed for evolutionary theory. And it labeled all these as “evidence for evolution.” But unbiased scientific work, and research without ideological and preconceived conclusions, did not support the claim of evolution theory. This is because every creature, like a letter, is written by a pen of divine power with the elements in the universe. Those who desire to conceal the author of these letters used fraud as a last resort.

The Piltdown fraud is mentioned, and Peking Man claimed to be fraudulent. Archaeopteryx is called a hoax, but curiously, the basis for this is a reference to a 1987 article in Punch, not Hoyle and Wickramasinghe.

3. “Darwin Must Rely On Luck”: Some recent ideas on the role of sheer luck (“survival of the luckiest”) in evolution is used to ridicule the theory. Then, to bear witness that “in all in existence, signs of infinite knowledge, will, power and capability are seen”, and to object to “scientists explaining these with luck and chance,” two recent Western books are discussed: the French biologist Remy Chauvin’s Dieu des Fourmis, Dieu des Etoiles (The God of Ants, The God of Stars), and the Australian Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory In Crisis.

4. “The Creation Model”: Explanation of creationist “kinds” and how in the creation model variation is confined to “the genetic potential” of each kind. Based entirely on Duane Gish’s Evolution: The Fossils Say No!, and W.E. Lammerts’ “the Galapagos Islands Finches” in the book Why Not Creation? of 1970.

5. “Why the Dogmatism of Evolution?”: Quotes creationists A.N. Field and G. McCready Price, and biologists from the 1920′s and 30′s, on how evolution has become the orthodoxy through propaganda. It is claimed that Turkish scientific circles also treat evolution as an untouchable truth; which is not the case today.

6. “Evolution and Ideology”: This starts out with “Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism have been used to serve capitalism and racism in the past century.”

For example, The Englishman Herbert Spencer, who was an influential evolutionary philosopher and sociologist, strongly defended the idea of Social Darwinism [applied by robber barons and imperialists]. In Germany, the racist evolutionism of persons such as Haeckel, Nietzsche and Bismarck later gave birth to Adolf Hitler’s Nazism.

However, the Islamic religious right is much more anti-communist than anti-capitalist. So the bulk of the article is devoted to showing the connection of evolution to Godless Communism, with references to sources such as the International Socialist Review and Marxism Today.

[Marxists] paid respect to Darwinism because it gave scientific respectability to naturalistic and atheistic opinions. But what they wanted was not a slowly progressing evolution, but in contrast, a change that took place faster.

Eldredge and Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium is then brought up, with the implication that this surfaced to cater to the need of communism for rapid change! It turns out that this bizarre form of Red-baiting is also inspired by American creationism; a reference is made at the end of this section to “H. Morris, Evolution in Turmoil.

7. “Modern Life in Ancient Societies”: Evolution being seen as a general philosophy beyond biology, social evolution is the topic. By misrepresenting current criticism of older, simplistic linear cultural evolution notions, it is asserted that no evidence exists that humans ever had anything but rather modern social features.

The creationist view of cultural development is given as:

Creationists accept that humans are created as humans and with a high intelligence, and wide ranging ability and capacity. Doubtless humans have not come into a world with built cities and a developed technology in all its aspects. But the Lord God has given him an ability to use and develop the resources of the earth, and equipped him according to the purpose he was sent to the world.

[Humankind has progressed,] [b]ut it should not be forgotten that the foundations of this culture and civilization have been laid by the miracles of the prophets [of God].

The existence of religious belief itself is brought to count against evolution:

When evolving humans from animals, it must not be forgotten that they have, in contrast to animals, concepts of morality, idealism and religion. How will evolution explain the moral values that come from the created nature of humans? How has the emotion of faith developed in humans? [. . . Human] differences show that they are perfectly created with their own special nature and for a purpose.

The booklet ends with an advertisement for another, full color, illustrated and detailed creationist book, “dealing a death blow to modern atheism.”

Perhaps the most striking feature of this example of Turkish creationism is the extent of almost total dependence on Christian creationists. Perhaps this should be expected, as Turkish intellectual life tends to lag behind the West in general. The weak state of Turkish science (Turkey has been reported to have 12 thousand scientists, the most of any Islamic country, said to have a total of only 45 thousand overall, out of a population of about a billion (Yıldırım, 1993)) may have a connection with the prevalence of imported pseudoscientific beliefs. But probably the major factor is that a segment of society has more recently felt the need and the possibility to respond to the pressures of secularism, and not by retreating into a traditionalist isolation. Islamic fundamentalism, like its Christian cousin, is a product of modernity in its very reaction to it.

Christian creationism was there, accessible, and easily adaptable. The religions are remarkably similar, as far as the Creation mythology is concerned. Differences exist between the literal creation stories of the Qur’an and Genesis, but these are details that very rarely come up in the creationist literature, if at all. The usual vague “creation model” is fully compatible with Islam.

Islamic creationists are more likely to be day-age, Old Earth creationists; accepting Genesis only as a corrupted version of the original message of God to the Hebrews. The Qur’an account is relatively vague, even as to the number of days of creation: while most have the conventional six, one ambiguous passage adds up to eight. Also, in various verses the “days of God” are taken to be a thousand (Al-Hajj 47, As-Sajdah 5) or even fifty thousand (Al-Ma`arij 4) years in length, though these are in different contexts than creation. So forcing the text into a day-age interpretation is somewhat easier for the Islamic case. They also don’t have to worry as much about the stated order of creation in the Genesis story, as little is said about this matter in the Qur’an.

Contemporary Islam in general has a greater tendency towards literalism than Christianity regarding its sacred texts. The Qur’an is taken by almost all Muslims, conservative and liberal, as being the direct and unaltered word of their God. The historical conditions being such that many Muslims feel culturally threatened by a powerful and intrusive West that is more technologically advanced, there may be less of an opportunity at the present to develop analogues to nonliteral modernist theologies. Since science is indispensable in order to emerge from backwardness relative to the cultural competitor, and religious identity is nonnegotiable to large degree, creationism can be an attractive compromise. Science must validate, not threaten, the revealed truth.

The popularity of all kinds of pseudoscience in Turkey is remarkable, but this has not spawned any generalized skeptical movement in response. The limited opposition to creationism takes place in the context of an overall criticism of Islam. In recent years the Islamic religion has increasingly been a basis for political action, so its critique also has a political flavor. Leftists who see a strengthening orthodox religion as a barrier to progressive change are among the foremost Turkish critics of Islamic creationism, treating it as yet another sign of the unscientific character of Muslim belief.

While I have seen a reference to a book called Science and Creationism (by title alone; perhaps the one edited by A. Montagu, 1984) as having been translated into Turkish, more accessible anti-creationist sources are articles and sections of books by critics of Islam. There have been a number of books critical of religion published recently, some by socialists who were political prisoners in the early 1980′s and had access only to religious material in the prison libraries. Unfortunately, they tend to successfully address already culturally modernist segments of society only, and reinforce the religious right’s identification of evolution with atheism.

A recent example is the book The Truth About Islam by such a self-described ex-prisoner of conscience, Erdoğan Aydın (Aydın, 1992). Its second volume is an exercise in confronting literalist Islam’s blatant contradictions with present scientific understanding. One chapter is devoted to an examination of creationism. On the politics of creationism:

The American New Right in the 80′s, through reactionary institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research etc., produced widespread publications aiming to present the myth of creation as a serious claim and spread doubt about evolution; with direct support of the US and satellite states, this antiscientific effort was [promoted relentlessly]. What Muslim ideologues have done at this point (without neglecting to attack Christianity), is to [depend upon] Christian researchers on the subject, translate them directly or steal their claims without feeling the need to provide citations. [. . . ]

[. . .] This antiscientific tendency was met with opposition by the most respected US scientists and institutions, the science-cloaked new claims of the creationists were refuted once more, and it was underlined that creation claims could not appear at any level in science education. In the following process, the American Supreme Court decided to stop the practice of the imposition of creation theory on schools.

Without a doubt, the same will not take place in our country as easily as in the USA. Even though a strong institutional counter-rationality is present as a reflection of the dominance of [Big Business], institutions of science have also acquired [significant power]. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our country! Furthermore, our democratic [sources of power] are vanishingly weak, and in contrast, archaic judgements and institutions are extremely potent. [. . .]

Aydın’s defense of evolutionary concepts does not provide anything novel, and it is partially out of date. It is clear that he has not been able to follow the evolution side of the Western creation/evolution controversy. Most of the creationist claims he responds to are taken from the Islamic apologist H. Nurbaki’s book Ayet’s from the Qur’an and Scientific Truths (Nurbaki, n.d.). Nurbaki is one of the Islamic creationists particularly difficult to take seriously, with statements like

The guesses about the time of our worlds creation can never go beyond being mere claims. Therefore such information is not a theory, or even a hypothesis. Of course it is possible that these years are very many. However, we can never know the speed time flowed in those times. With this opportunity, we would like to remind our readers that ideas about the time of creation of the earth and the universe can never contradict the Qur’an.

Among all this, there still are some religious leaders who think an accommodation with evolutionary theory may be reached. The influential theological moderate Süleyman Ateş interprets certain ambiguous verses of the Qur’an to mean that evolutionary theory does not contradict the religion or scripture. “The Qur’an, which points to the origin of humanity in various places, shows that this creation was made subject to development. . . How this development takes place only God knows.” In his book This is True Religion (Ateş, 1991:228) he begins by interpreting the days of creation as ages. The argument is rather forced, and ignores verses (e.g. Ha Mim As-Sajdah 9; “day” is sometimes translated as “span” in English versions that assume a day-age harmonization) in which the shortness of time might emphasize the greatness of God. However, scriptural interpretation is always vague, so there is at least room for a more accommodating view.

There are also those that claim a form of directed evolution (“Evolutionary Creation”) as being Islamically acceptable, relying mainly on interpretations of Islamic philosophical speculations in the 9th to 11th centuries (Bayrakdar, 1987). While this is contrasted to modern evolutionary theories that are non-teleological, it provides a basis for a high degree of acceptance of descent by modification.

But the hope that Islamic versions of theologies that are not directly hostile to evolution can be popularly accepted must remain dim. Science does get respect, in its technological aspects—engineers in particular are prominent among culturally conservative leaders (this is also true where Arab countries are concerned (Sivan, 1985:81)). But the traditional understanding of the religion sees evolution as reducing humans to animals, so “scientific” creationism serves a vital religious function. The general framework of a “cultural traditionalist” group with leadership provided by conservatives within the sociological “New Class” broadly serves in the Turkish case as well as the US, to analyze creationism (Eve and Harrold, 1991).

Creationism also has to be understood in the context of the general apologetic activity directed against Western secular influences. Islam is pronounced to be a “scientific religion” in all its details, and those such as the French surgeon Maurice Bucaille who claim that the Qur’an is the only scripture in full agreement with modern science (Bucaille, 1982) get a lot of attention. The harmonization of scripture and science goes to the lengths of claiming “Qur’anic miracles,” with certain verses interpreted as having anticipated modern science in the 7th century (Moore, 1986), an activity reminiscent of the exegeses of Nostradamus. It is not surprising that the same sources would also take easily to “theory but not fact” rhetoric to preserve the perceived scientific integrity of the Qur’an.

It would seem that Turkish creationism can be held in check only with the support of some liberal form of religion; a mode of argument that is scientific alone, with no reference to religious belief, will probably not be sufficient in the current political context. But the prospects of this taking place are not good, particularly with the rising political and cultural force of orthodox religion; and modernist intellectuals have been bemoaning the resistance of Islam to any reform for more than a century now. Whatever the fortunes of Christian creationism, the Islamic world will be increasingly important in the future for creationist pseudoscience.

References

Ateş, Süleyman 1991. Gerçek Din Bu vol. 1. Istanbul: Yeni Ufuklar Nesriyat.

Aydın, Erdoğan 1992. Islamiyet Gerçeği vol. 2. Istanbul: Güney Yayıncılık.

Bayrakdar, Mehmet 1987. Islam’da Evrimci Yaradılış Teorisi. Istanbul: İnsan Yayınları.

Bucaille, Maurice 1982. The Bible, The Qur’an and Science. Paris: Seghers.

DPT (Devlet Planlama Teşkilatı) 1983. Milli Kültür Raporu. Ankara.

Eve, R. and F. Harrold 1991. The Creationist Movement in Modern America. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Moore, Keith L. 1986. “A Scientist’s Interpretation Of References To Embryology In The Qur’an.” The Journal of IMA, Vol. 18, p.15.

Nurbaki, Haluk n.d. Kur’an’dan Ayetler ve İlmi Gerçekler vol. III. (Aydın does not provide publication information)

Sivan, Emmanuel 1985. Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. Yale University Press.

Tatlı, Adem 1990. Evrim, iflas Eden Teori. Istanbul: Bedir Yayınevi.

Yeğin, M. Münip et.al. n.d. Biyokimya I. Ankara: Atatürk Üni. Yayınları No: 653. Discussed in Vecihi Timuroğlu, Türk-İslam Sentezi, Ankara: Başak Yayınları, 1991.

Yıldırım, Emin 1993; study described in the newspaper Cumhuriyet Hafta of Feb. 11, 1993.

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